Visit to US Colleges: Part 3 - University of Washington

UofWashington Campus.gif

Visit to University of Washington, Seattle campus

UW (pronounced ‘UDub’) is located West of Seattle right next to Puget Sound, the large water body (ocean?) in Seattle. The west is almost entirely the University District with the ‘W’ sign dominating all the streets, signages, shops etc. I was awestruck during the campus visit – it is truly breathtaking and actually hard to imagine how large until one sees it! This is an enclosed campus spread over 650 acres, massive in size with several buildings mostly classical old European architecture and few newer buildings like the Husky Union Building or ‘HUB’ and the computer sciences building. Lot of open green spaces like the liberal arts quad, a fascinating Harry-Potter- like library are some of the highlights. The student population is around 42,000 of which around 5,600 freshmen join every year. There is great diversity, especially Asian students - Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian. I managed to meet and interact with 4 Indian students/ freshmen from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangkok and Hyderabad and got a lot of information and sense of life on campus from them. These kids seemed extremely happy with their choice of UW. The Indian kids told me that everyone on campus knows them and they are friendly with most people. They felt size has not been an adjustment issue with them at all.

From most locals and also students on campus, the sense one gets is that it is very well reputed as one of the top 10 research universities in the US with large research endowments/ funds. This also means that there are many research opportunities on campus.

Professor to student ratio is not too great in year 1 with anything between 100-300 in a class, but thereafter from year 2, we were told, the ratio is around 20:1. Apart from professors, there are teaching assistants who help students clarify doubts post class. I attended one such class on imperialism in south east Asia in the 1300-1700s taught by a teaching assistant. Class size was around 45-50 students. On discussing with students, it seems teaching quality is high and academic rigor is also strong. In the first two years there is a wide range of subjects to choose from – to be able to select a major and get the major of your choice in year 3, one has to complete all pre-requisites in year 1 and 2. This isn’t always easy. Students who have taken IB are given an advantage and get a one year credit provided all pre-requisite courses that count towards the major of your choice were taken. This could well mean completing the undergrad in 3 years! At the same time, if GPA drops or minimum requirements are not met, this is an issue. The wide subject choice in the first two years also means that options are huge for deciding on areas of your interest e.g. if you decide to do psychology and later major in informatics, this is a great choice as it links computer sciences with psychology and behaviors in IT use, social networking etc. Computer Science and Informatics are very great majors (so I was told) and isn’t easy to get.

I spent time with the Admissions Office, Sabrina, who is married to an Indian, and was extremely helpful. She organized most of the day for me. She also talked a bit about financial aid and that if a student explores the various scholarships available and makes a case, fills the required forms, meets aid counselors, aid is possible. Also, on campus jobs like in the office, restaurants and other options are many. I checked on post campus graduation related placements, job placements and the issue of getting a strong recommendation from Professors. All students I spoke to felt that this was not at all the case as year 2 onwards, class size was small depending on the subject/ specialization and Professors knew you well enough to write good strong personalized recommendations. Placement options within Seattle seemed good – Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Boeing and many others. Also, outside Seattle, the UW reputation seemed strong for placements. There are over 350 study abroad programs to choose from and counselors who help you find the right program. UW also has an off-site campus in Rome. Also heard a brief talk on peace corps – for students who enroll, the peace corps which requires working on social/ community development projects in developing countries during summer or other periods, results in a two year international development experience on your resume and foreign language experience. The travel is fully paid for and funds are available (upto USD 7000) to plan such an experience.

Sports facilities were fantastic with very huge recreation/ sports centers, indoor pools, courts etc. Options to play soccer are there if you try and prove your skills. Sports is also big in Seattle as a city with huge games in the new massive stadiums for Soccer, Baseball etc. UW students get major discounts on everything in town – Games/ matches, public transportation (which is excellent) and other places.

Residence tour was great – it seems that there is a mix of old buildings from the 1960s and brand new ones. Old ones are slowly being torn down and being made from scratch in the most modern materials, finish and are quite state of the art. The West Campus residences were the most preferred especially Alder Hall, Elm Hall – both are brand new and were completed in fall 2012 – they have double rooms with kitchen areas, private loos. Common areas have fancy cooking spaces, every floor has lounges and common areas for hanging out, watching TV etc with spectacular views of the water and bridge. The Mercer Court and another similar one coming up have 5 room apartments which house 10 kids and 2-3 loos, a massive kitchen, lounge and great views (may not be in all apartments), but it will be around USD 300 more per annum compared to the others. Both these will be ready in fall 2013 so kids who move there will have brand new accommodation. To ensure space in these newer buildings (including Elm and Alder), most important to register and indicate your housing preference between May 8-15 – it will be based on first come first served. Eating options on campus are several and apparently great for non-vegetarians. One side of the University is flanked by University Avenue or ‘Av’ which is full of shops, cafes and restaurants and a great haunt for college students. On social scene, students told me that a heck of a lot happens on campus but also plenty of stuff to do outside campus like concerts in town, hiking trips, skiing.

Seattle is flanked by mountains on both sides, the Cascades and the famous ‘Mount Ranier’, Lake Washington, Union Lake, Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean. Vancouver is only a two hour drive. It’s a two hour flight to LA and lesser to SFO. I spoke to several students and cab drivers about the infamous rainy Seattle weather. They all said that it’s a hoax staged by locals to keep outsiders out of the gorgeous Pacific North West. It does rain for many days of the year but is light and keeps clearing up. No heavy rain and no wind chill, no extreme cold. Its mild winters not lower than minus 2 degrees and summers are cool around 80-90 degree F. It may not be sunny too often but its good weather and the rain does not prevent or dampen any outdoor sports or activities.

Overall, what a campus, what a city and I think, what an experience it will be – truly a big US university experience in a big US city!

Pros: strong reputation as best research university in US, great campus and housing, good for psychology, many course options, mild weather (although its grey and rains many weeks of the year, it never gets too cold) and great city with proximity to Vancouver and other great areas, 1 year credit for IB students

Cons: very large university, class size huge in first year